Pointing the Way with USB Mice, Part 2
Apple’s introduction of the Universal Serial Bus (USB) to the Macintosh line and the addition of the puck-like mouse bundled with iMacs and Power Macintosh systems have prompted developers to create replacement pointing devices. Just as important as the plastics of each device, however, are the USB drivers that power them. In part one of this article, I talked about Contour Designs’ UniMouse and Kensington’s family of mice. Here, I want to wrap up with Logitech’s MouseWare, XLR8’s Pointer to make do with a single cadre of button definitions. This is adequate for my purposes, but it simply won’t suffice for the true customization junky.
Wheel scrolling works fairly well in applications that recognize the MouseWare driver. For instance, Internet Explorer consistently responds to the scroll wheel and behaves as expected; Sherlock does not. Logitech makes note of this incompatibility but has yet to announce a fix.
An added bonus is that MouseWare supports horizontal scrolling and defaults to horizontal if no vertical scrolling is available in the active window. Scrolling is also cursor-focused, so scrolling takes place in the window beneath the cursor, which is useful for applications like Ircle that have multiple windows and floaters. This subtle nicety does behave a bit oddly in framed browser windows, where it scrolls the closest scroll bar, which might not be what you want.
I enjoyed the capability to scroll in two dimensions while working in FreeHand and Word; this feature almost justifies a Logitech mouse and MouseWare combination by itself. For those who prefer a more consistent user experience though, the lack of scrolling support in Sherlock and undoubtedly some other applications may eliminate Logitech’s MouseWare driver from consideration.
XLR8 Point-and-Scroll… and Nothing Else — Dirt-cheap PC peripheral maker Interex has entered the USB mouse game on the Mac side with the XLR8 Point-and-Scroll mouse, a sub-$20 two-button mouse with a scroll wheel that’s available in a variety of colors.
The XLR8 Point-and-Scroll control panel is simple and clean, in part because it offers limited functionality. The control panel provides two tabbed panes, one for defining functions for the buttons and another for configuring the scroll wheel. No application specific sets are available.
Once activated, scrolling is where XLR8’s driver shines. Holding down the Option key while moving the scroll wheel enables horizontal scrolling. The driver also supports what it calls "accelerated scrolling." Once activated, scrolling is continuous and scrolling speed increases the farther the wheel is moved. For users looking for a cheap mouse with a scroll wheel, the XLR8 mouse may be the perfect choice.
Microsoft IntelliPoint… A Smarter Mouse — A cursory examination of the Microsoft IntelliPoint mouse driver reveals tightly tuned controls. Microsoft did a nice job of integrating all of the functionality into three tabbed panes. IntelliPoint includes the common "snap-to" feature that automatically moves the cursor to the default button in dialog boxes./P>
IntelliPoint has one undocumented feature that’s quite useful – accelerated scrolling that changes the scrolling distance based on the speed at which you rotate the wheel. Move the wheel one notch a time, slowly, and you’ll scroll a single line a time. Give the wheel a quick turn, and you’ll scroll an entire page at a time.
IntelliPoint works with all the different Microsoft USB-based pointing devices, including the Microsoft IntelliMouse (the classic Microsoft mouse), and the new IntelliMouse Explorer, Redmond’s new chrome multi-button monster with a red tail-light. I found the feel of the buttons and scroll wheel on the IntelliMouse Explorer to be light and strangely dainty given the rat-like size of the beast, but many will love the light touch and Microsoft’s maintenance-free IntelliEye design that eliminates the crud-gathering mouse ball in favor of an optical sensor.
USB Overdrive… Difficult to Drive — Alessandro Levi Montalcini’s $20 shareware USB Overdrive is the uberdriver for all sorts of USB-based pointing devices. It works with both mice and joysticks, and once configured, works very well, offering consistent, reliable behavior. Scrolling is reliable and ubiquitous. Horizontal scrolling suffers the same liabilities as the IntelliPoint driver and just isn’t as handy as it should be. USB Overdrive also supports application-specific configuration sets.
Despite USB Overdrive’s excellent feature set and reliability, its user interface is compressed and inelegant, with mouse speeds using arcane descriptors like Fast 20 and Medium 80. Since USB Overdrive supports all known types of USB pointing devices, it displays the entire set of controls it knows about, including those that don’t exist on devices you have connected. This results in a confusing array of controls, and because there’s no way to determine the names of these controls from the ROMs in the pointing devices, USB Overdrive assigns them arbitrary names that don’t always make sense. In addition, controls are held to a single window which, while busy, makes it easier keep track of settings and trace down unexpected mouse and button behavior.
Revisions to InputSprockets with Mac OS 9 created some problems for gaming devices (not mice) controlled by USB Overdrive that Alessandro is working with Apple to resolve. Some users will find it necessary to disable USB Overdrive’s joystick support (by removing the USB Joystick Overdrive extension from the Extensions folder, then unplugging and replugging the USB device) to facilitate game play with InputSprocket games.
That said, USB Overdrive is the ideal solution for any USB pointing device that would otherwise go unsupported on the Mac and might be worthwhile for Logitech mouse users who desire more reliable scrolling.
Finding Your Hole in the Wall — Ultimately, a pointing device buying decision becomes a compromise between physical design and driver limitations.
Thanks to its clean interface and bulletproof scrolling, Microsoft’s IntelliPoint driver helps the Microsoft pointing devices stand out in a crowded and contentious field. The lack of a traditional mouse ball helps the IntelliEye mice scroll smoothly regardless of surface (including your leg or a pillow), although early reports noted problems with certain specific surfaces (such as glass and other reflective surfaces) that I have been unable to reproduce.
For those who wish to avoid Redmond’s answer, the extensive configuration options provided by Kensington’s MouseWorks makes a Kensington USB pointing device a good second choice. Scrolling support in MouseWorks is less robust than in IntelliPoint, but the variety of pointing devices available from Kensington may compensate for this limitation.
[Warren Magnus is the brains behind samespace, a marketing and business development consulting firm. He also serves as sponsorship chair and webmaster for the MacHack software developers’ conference.]